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Conservation Matters

Conservation Matters – Conservation Matters is the title of of our conservation column in the bi-monthly OPAS Harlequin Happenings newsletter. We will post our column every two months for you to read.

This column is from the November – December 2019 edition of the Harlequin Happenings newsletter.

 Survival by Degrees

by Bob Phreaner

July, 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. 389 North American bird species are at increasing risk of extinction from climate driven shifts in temperature, precipitation, and vegetation. Climate change is impacting the availability of habitat, food sources, and nesting. Audubon scientists took advantage of 140 million observations, recorded by scientists and birders like you, who enter data on eBird and participate in Christmas Bird Counts, to describe the range of 604 North American bird species. They then used the latest climate models to project how each species’ range will shift as climate change and other human-caused effects advance across the continent.

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Earth will have an average temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, and 3 °C by 2080, if carbon emissions continue to increase at the current rate. Audubon scientists used three scenarios of temperature increase. In the most optimistic 2019 model, by adopting clean energy policies, there could be no change in CO2annual output by 2050 and Earth will have a temperature increase of 1.5 °C. As CO2emissions increase, we will see an increase in temperature and with it increases in catastrophic weather events, heat waves, sea level rise and wildfires. These phenomena were predicted in the 2014 Climate Report to displace half the birds in North America. In 2014 there were 44,000 observations and the resolution of the climate model was 12 sq. kilometers. In 2019, the sensitivity of the model is now improved to 1 sq. km! Go to, Conservation tab, and under the Conservation News you will see the article Survival by Degrees you can enter your Zip code and select from three scenarios of temperature increase: 1.5 °C, 2 °C, and 3 °C. At 1.5 °C.  In Clallam County, the model predicts the loss of Barrows Goldeneye and the Red-breasted Sapsucker from 98382. Crows might increase, because generalists with more flexible diets and habitat requirements fair better than specialists. Check out the site and be alarmed by the species predicted by two ornithologists to be impacted by climate change in our backyard.

OPAS representatives watched Dr. Gary Langham introduce the 2014 Audubon Birds and Climate Change report at the Audubon Council of Washington meeting in Ocean Shores. I remember feeling helpless as if there were few actions we could take to mitigate the coming calamity. When the 2019 Survival by Degrees report was released on October 10th, it included strategies for mitigation. Birds can’t fight Climate Change. We Can. Washington State is a leader in adopting 100% Clean Electricity generation by 2045. Investing in renewable energy is critical. Look around at all our OPAS members driving electric or hybrid vehicles. I haven’t seen enough lawns being replaced by native plants to sustain birds, but we are spreading the word. Remember, the National Audubon mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.


Dungeness Bay Supports Seabirds of the North Pacific

by Judith White

Judi White

Tufted Puffin, the charismatic and iconic seabird of the Pacific Northwest, has the best of both worlds. It can fly above AND below water. The alcid family of diving seabirds in the Dungeness area also includes Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, Ancient Murrelet and Marbled Murrelet. These seabirds have strong, short wings that can propel them at speeds up to 50 mph under water, while diving to depths of up to 600 feet, and most of them seem more comfortable and graceful under water than above it. Similar to penguins of the Southern Hemisphere, alcids in the Northern Hemisphere have compact bodies and short necks. Unlike penguins which cannot fly, today’s alcids retained the ability to fly in the air. Their rapidly whirring wings propel them at high speed in the air, but they cannot soar.
Protection Island supports one of the largest breeding colonies of Rhinoceros Auklets in the world, as well as significant breeding populations of Pigeon Guillemots, and is one of the last two breeding sites for Tufted Puffins in the Salish Sea. These seabirds excavate burrows for nesting, and most return to the open sea after breeding. Protection Island, part of the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, can be seen from the Dungeness Spit, New Dungeness Lighthouse, and Marlyn Nelson County Park at Port Williams.
Even though they do not nest in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, thousands of Common Murres migrate in August and September into the Strait from nesting colonies along the outer Pacific Ocean, perhaps from as far as Oregon and California. In late summer, Common Murre chicks jump from their nesting cliffs when they are only about one-fifth the mass of their parents, and unable to fly. After jumping, the little chicks swim away to sea with their fathers, calling and begging to be fed. The adults also molt their flight feathers at the same time and become flightless as well. All the murres then migrate by swimming hundreds of miles along the coast into the Strait, ending up in large flocks in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca. They are one of the main participants in local feeding flocks. From August to November, Common Murres far outnumber local-nesting Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Marbled Murrelet’s nesting sites were more of a mystery, only discovered in 1974. These diving seabirds nest along the Pacific Coast, high in broad moss-covered branches of large trees greater than 200 years old. Both parents fly inland up to 50 miles each way to these rare nest-trees, carrying one small fish for their young chick, several times a day. Once the young bird is able to fly, it flies directly to nearshore waters and begins diving for small fishes on its own. Diving seabirds are especially dependent on small fishes, often termed “forage fish”, to provide the concentrated energy they need for diving, flying, and rearing healthy chicks. The waters of the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet provide fertile forage fishing grounds. These nutritious schools of forage fish are a crucial link in the food chain, supporting not just birds but a wide range of larger fish and marine mammals. Monitoring and restoration of forage fish populations in the Salish Sea is an area of intense environmental and legislative action.
One of the most important Salish Sea forage fish is the Pacific herring, which spawn in eelgrass beds. Native eelgrass (Zostera marina) is a flowering shallow water plant that needs soft-sediment habitat like that found in the Dungeness Bay. As the Dungeness River travels down from the mountains bringing soil and nutrients to the Bay, it mixes with salt water to create one of the premier Pacific Northwest estuaries, the Dungeness Bay. Here, one of the largest eelgrass beds in the Greater Puget Sound is found. Eelgrass beds are so important to the ecology of the Greater Puget Sound that the Washington State De-partment of Natural Resources closely monitors and protects eelgrass beds through the Nearshore Habitat Program and Submerged Vegetation Monitoring Project, but despite this protection, the eelgrass beds and local herring populations have declined in Dungeness Bay. In addition to the spawning Pacific herring, Dungeness Bay eelgrass stabilizes shorelines and supports young salmon and steelhead, crab, shrimp, shellfish, and thousands of Brant geese and other over-wintering waterfowl, which prefer it as a food source.
The nutrient-rich Dungeness River, our premier Dungeness Bay estuary and eelgrass beds, and the Washington Maritime National Refuge Complex together support the iconic Greater Puget Sound ecosystem from Puffins to marine mammals. Protect and enjoy this magnificent resource.